Waihona Mele

A Repository of Mele-Inspired Essays


Aia i He‘eia

Surfing at O‘ahu's He‘eia is utterly impossible.

In some ways, the mele "Aia i He‘eia" is a victim of its own accessibility.  Because its words are so easily obtained from contemporary recordings and 20th century songbooks, the complacent performer is easily misled into assuming that these versions are faithful to the early texts. Because He‘eia is an immediately recognizable Windward O‘ahu place-name, the same performer is easily lulled into assuming that the mele is set in Ko‘olaupoko. Not so on either count. The popular "He‘eia" – the 10-line, so-called mele ma‘i that ends with "‘O Hālala i ka nuku manu" – is actually an abbreviated version...  Read the entire essay >>

Aia i Hilo One

A song for Sweet Emalia Kaihumua, the author of "He Aloha Moku O Keawe."

Hilo, Hawai'i, is traditionally divided into three sections: Hilo Palikū (Hilo of the Upright Cliff) lies east of the Wailuku River at the Hāmākua end of Hilo town; Hilo One (Sand Hilo) identifies the ma kai section of Hilo bordered by the wide, black sand beach that once ran the length of Hilo Bay; and Hilo Hanakahi (Hilo of the Chief Hanakahi) refers to the inland section of Hilo near Keaukaha.  According to Jean Sullivan's liner notes for Vickie Ii Rodrigues' Nā Mele 'Ohana: "'Hilo One,' the story of the lovers Emily and Henry, is of unknown origin. It's been sung by the trio of sisters for many years, and is a favorite...  Read the entire essay >>

Aia lā ‘o Pele i Hawai‘i

Aunty Mae Loebenstein's ‘auana version of the ‘Īlālā‘ole classic.

The traditional, chanted version of "Aia lā ‘o Pele" belongs to the collection of Joseph Keali‘iakamoku ‘Īlālā‘ole (1873-1965), one of the "last great Hawaiian chanters to have been born in the 19th century."  The integrity of his text – I have found no conflicting versions to cloud its pedigree – suggests that ‘Īlālā‘ole was his generation's sole keeper and teacher of "Aia lā ‘o Pele." The structure and language of his text -- the chant is built with neat, evenly phrased verses of two lines each; it ends with "Ha'ina"; its allusions are recognizable, its vocabulary is familiar; and its grammar is listener-friendly...  Read the entire essay >>

A i Waimea ‘o Kalani

One of the boring cornerstones of our Queen Emma repertoire.

Our “A i Waimea ‘o Kalani” is not interpreted hula; it is transmitted hula. Māpuana chants it and our students dance it just as Māpuana remembers it being taught to her by her teacher, Maiki Aiu Lake. To the best of Māpu’s knowledge and ability, our Merrie Monarch performance of “A i Waimea” is that same hula. We make this distinction because the "traditional” hula of today is most often interpreted hula: it features newly created (or unscrupulously copied) choreographies for either old or newly composed texts; only rarely does it preserve an old mele and its old choreography. Although the hula world... Read the entire essay >>

‘Alekoki Revisited

Lunalilo and Kamāmalu: star-crossed lovers.

William Charles Lunalilo's "‘Alekoki" is usually performed as an upbeat, four-verse, 16-line hula ‘auana of Kodak Hula Show vintage: big smiles, lots of spins, double pū‘ili, plumeria lei, grass skirts, and "he-hey" endings. When explained in this all-too-familiar context, the mele is regularly attributed to David Kalākaua and his persuasive conquest of an initially hesitant lover.  Lunalilo's actual composition is more than twice the length of the popular version. It has nothing to do with Kalākaua or with an ultimately successful lovers' tryst. On the contrary, it describes the heartache suffered...  Read the entire essay >>

‘Alo‘alo Ehuehu Pōkā

Wherein we look into the depths of Sam Kaloa’s undefeated heart.

S. K. Kaloa is listed as a “carpenter, residence Alakea and King” in Polk’s 1893 Directory and Handbook of the Hawaiian Kingdom. He would later become an O‘ahu representative of the Hawaiian Patriotic League, a minister, a member of Hui Kuokoa, and a loyal supporter of Jonah Kuhiō Kalaniana‘ole in the prince’s party-switching run for congress. Kaloa is also listed as one of the imprisoned counter-revolutionaries of January 7, 1893. He was tried and convicted of treason on the 25th of that month after giving the following testimony to the Dole and Thurston tribunal... Read the entire essay >>

‘Aloha Hōnaunau

"Let more famous chanters beat their own drums; this one is ours, tis ours, indeed."

I began writing this mele with the idea of commemorating, for my daughters, our family’s kulāiwi relationship with Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau, a relationship that stems from my mother’s ties, through her mother, to the founders and keepers of Hale o Keawe. What started as a little haku mele project turned into a fairly major piece of research and writing, the most inspiring outcome of which was my discovery of Bernice Pauahi Bishop’s role in the history of the pu‘uhonua. I learned that Charles Reed Bishop acquired the ahupua‘a of Hōnaunau in 1867 from...  Read the entire essay >>

A Maunakea ‘o Kalani

Emmaʻs answer to "Iā ‘Oe e ka Lā."

"A Maunakea ‘o Kalani" is the last, in geographic sequence, of the eight mele that were composed for Queen Emma’s 1881 expedition from Mānā to Maunakea and back. It is also the most unyielding, meaning-stingy mele of the lot. Its poets were consummate riddlers, haku mele who took great delight in understatement, indirection, and the withholding of detail. When viewed in isolation – outside its eight-mele context and without benefit of the Lindsey family’s oral history of Emma’s trip – "A Maunakea ‘o Kalani" seems almost too thin, shallow, and porous to hold more than a crumb... Read the entire essay >>

‘Auhea Wale ‘Oe e Kahalakea

So that our bones will not be scattered in the wind.

This mele was inspired by my reading of “Ka Moolelo no Kamaakamahiai,” the story of a Maui-born kupua child who, after putting his own island to rights, journeys to Ka‘ōhao,1 Kailua, where he helps Olopana to regain control of O‘ahu, marries Olopana’s daughter Keoholupalupa, returns to Maui to quell the rebellion of his own brother Mana‘o, helps the ali‘i of Hawai‘i (Nālualele) and Kaua‘i (Manōuli, his grandfather) to regain control of their islands, and – now an old man – gives the nod of approval to his great-grandson Olopana II whose turn has come to take up the legacy of bringing order to the land.  Read the entire essay >>

‘Auhea Wale ‘Oe e ka ‘Ō‘ō

A name chant for Queen Emma from the collection of Mary Kawena Pukui.

It took Queen Emma nearly a decade to recover from the double “flight” of her son and husband in 1862 and 1863.  Her debilitating, nearly overwhelming sorrow worried her people no end.  They were well-versed in the stages of Hawaiian grief: they expected an initial period of numbness followed by a longer period of active, expressive mourning.  They were prepared for the painful, but ultimately positive, working-through of a whole “conglomerate of emotions”: protest, hostility, apathy, restless energy, intense yearning.  And they looked forward to seeing in her the growth of maha, the calm acceptance...  Read the entire essay >>

E Ho‘i ke Aloha i Ni‘ihau

A name chant for Queen Kapi‘olani inspired by a ho‘oulu lāhui tour of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.

The liner notes of Tom Hiona’s Ethnic Folkways recording of “Hoi Kealoha i Niihau” claim that the mele: "tells the story of the high priest Paoa, who led his people to the island of Niihau in search of the sacred hidden waters and finally found the secret by following the flight of the kolea or red-breasted plover birds." Research and tradition, however, clearly identify “E Ho‘i ke Aloha i Ni‘ihau” as a mele inoa for Kapi‘olani, Queen Consort of David Kalākaua. We know this from the writings of Pukui, Wong, Beamer, Mader, Tatar, and Kaeppler; we know it... Read the entire essay >>

Hanohano Hale‘iwa (Halei‘iwa Hotel)

For the Iaukea family – Pi‘ehu, Kahālo‘ipua, and Kāhili.

“The hooves of the iron horse thundered at the depot of the new hotel. We gazed at this Beauty of Waialua poised so elegantly on a mound of mānienie grass as if it were an ‘ōpua cloud strutting proudly in the encircling skies. How beautiful it is!  The two flags are waving on its flagpoles. A Hawaiian flag on the east and an American flag on the west. It made me think that the foundation on which the house stands is Hawaiian-American. And upon the briefest of glances at the front of this hale, the gold letters sparkle, and the name HALEIWA is seen.”  Read the entire essay >>

Hanohano ‘o Maui

Kahikina‘s mele plus two new verses for Makanani Akiona.

Kahikina de Silva composed this mele in August 1995 for the 12-year-olds of Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilima who – after a year of studying Maui hula at home on O‘ahu – had just returned from three days of ‘ike-maka experiences on Maui itself. The travel sequence of Kahikina's song follows the itinerary of a workshop that we have been conducting, now, for almost twenty years. On day one, we visit ‘Īao Valley, discuss the legacies of Kāka'e and the battle of Ka‘ua‘upali, swim in the tingling waters of Kepaniwai, sing “Nā Ali‘i Puolani,” and dance “Maui o Kama,” and “Hanohano Waiehu.”...  Read the entire essay >>

Hanohano Wailea

Straight from the horseʻs mouth.

I composed "Hanohano Wailea" in 1984 after a walk to the beach. I went there to cool off after a day of yard work, but I came home quickly, far from cooled-off, with a mele stewing in my head. I’ve said elsewhere that I was inspired by the beauty of what I saw, but I was, in fact, aggravated by the palaualelo of what I’d heard. I wrote "Hanohano Wailea" in response to a self-styled keiki o ka ‘āina who had been giving his house guests a quick lesson in Lanikai landmarks. "That over there," he said, "is Smith’s Point. Behind us is Pillbox Hill and to the north is Mid-Pac Knoll. And those twin...  Read the entire essay >>

He ‘Ai na Kalani

Food for thought: a little-known mele by Lili‘uokalani.

Hui Hānai suggests that Lili‘u composed this mele for one of two events in Kalākaua’s reign: his return, in 1881, from his tour of the world, or his change of residence, in 1888, from Honolulu to Kailua, Hawai‘i. Her mele describes the special foods that were prepared on these significant occasions, the cherished friends who served them, and the respectful silence that traditionally accompanied the royal meal.  But "He ‘Ai na ka Lani" is more than a song about satisfying the appetite. ‘Ai means "to rule" as well as "to eat."  The nature of the foods prepared and consumed by Kalākaua suggests...  Read the entire essay >>

He Aloha Moku o Keawe

Sweet Emalia's song of intense longing for her homeland.

Emalia Kaihumua, a noted dancer in the court of David Kalākaua, is best remembered today as “Sweet Emalia,” the heartthrob of the three-way relationship described in the still-popular composition “Aia i Hilo One.” Her talents, moreover, seem to have reached beyond hula and huinakolu; while performing in California in 1894, she was inspired by cold and homesickness to write “He Aloha Moku O Keawe,” a song of intense longing for the island of Hawaiʻi. Kaihumua’s music did not survive the 19th century, but her words found their way into the mele hula repertoire of Hilo resident...  Read the entire essay >>

He Inoa no Kaleimakali‘i

There is but one refrain / The kupa who resist the storm.

The ‘ili ‘āina of Kālia, Waikīkī, was famed for the embrace of its kai hōpuni, for the sweet nehe nākulukulu of sea on sand dunes, and for the wai limu ‘ele‘ele of Pi‘inā‘io Stream whose hīnana swarmed by the thousands to Kūkālia pool in Mānoa Valley. Today, for most of us, Kālia is a road and a tower: the Kālia Tower of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort. But Hawaiian families are often very stubborn about their geography. Often – as the passing of time and generations separates us more and more from our kulāiwi – an odd thing happens. We become even more attached to our memories... Read the entire essay >>

He Inoa no nā Keiki o ka Bāna Lāhui (Kaulana nā Pua)

Composed in Kekoaohiwaikalani’s rose garden for the boys of the national band.

This is the song that brought a pair of nearly lost, almost-haoles into head-on collision with the possibility that, in our classmate Haunani Trask’s words, we were not American, not American, not American. Not in our heart of hearts, not if our great-grandparents had anything to say about it. We were not, in the late 1960s, the least bit aware of the history of a queen, her nation, a terrible wrong, a misplaced trust, the smoke of rifles, and 38,000 signatures of protest. We did not learn this in school, not in Hilo, Kailua, Kamehameha, or Punahou. No, we learned this for the first time... Read the entire essay >>

He Ua i Pono ē, Pono ia Ua

It is still a world where sky mates with earth and where life-giving waters flow unrestricted.

The poet-prophet-chief Keaulumoku was born in 1715 or 1716 in the Hāmākua districts (Hāmākua-poko and Hāmākualoa) of windward Maui. He died in 1784 in Kauhola, on the leeward coast of Hawai‘i with the words of his “‘Au‘a ‘Ia” still hanging in the air. As John Charlot notes, Keaulumoku’s life “thus spanned the last decades of the precontact period and the decisive events of the early contact period.” Because of his wild and compelling brilliance, the ali‘i of Maui, O‘ahu, and Hawai‘i regularly sought Keaulumoku’s advice, and his “atypical career... Read the entire essay >>

He Ua lā he Ua

Voiced by a people who chose to honor their ali‘i with a hospitality they could not afford.

Emerson classifies “He Ua lā he Ua” as a hula kōlani: “a hula of gentle, gracious action, acted and sung [without instrumental accompaniment], while the performers kept a sitting position." Our tradition defines the kōlani as a hula kuhi whose specific purpose is that of honoring a chief. Edith McKenzie introduced the mele to us in 1980 at Kalōpā, Hawai‘i, in a three-day hula workshop sponsored by Keahi Allen and the State Council on Hawaiian Heritage. Aunty Edith cited Emerson, provided us with his text and translation, and taught us her version... Read the entire essay >>

He Wehi no ka Lāhui

May you be of one heart, held by love / To guard the sands of your birth.

This mele lāhui was composed by Ellen Kekoaohiwaikalani Wright Prendergast on the same day that she composed “Kaulana nā Pua” [1] (February 10, 1893), and it was published in John Ailuene Bush’s loyalist Hawaiian language newspaper Ka Leo o ka Lahui on February 16, a week before the same newspaper’s publication of its first version [2] of Prendergast’s considerably more famous mele. We have chosen “He Wehi no ka Lāhui” as the ka‘i and ho‘i for “Kaulana nā Pua” because it brings a beautiful and long-forgotten mele back into the consciousness of our people...  Read the entire essay >>

Hiehie Kīlaulani

Bound in love are we at Pu‘uehu / For the sweet-eyed kole of the Konas.

Mary Kawena Pukui explains that the “kole maka onaona” of the mele “Hōnaunau Pāka” is “a dark-colored fish with reddish-brown eyes, both bright and beautiful. The word is, however, used figuratively here [as a reference] to the young people of Kona.” The identity of the bright-eyed kole of Pu‘uehu, Hōnaunau, who makes her appearance in the final verse of our “Hiehie Kīlaulani,” is more specific. Although we do not name her, she is Lorna Pi‘ilani de Silva; the mother/grandmother for whom this song is written and to whom its composers are bound in love.  Read the entire essay >>

Hiehie Olomana

Olomana is also Hawaiian pidgin for “old man,” a reference to the composer’s grandfather.

Although this mele wahi pana for Kailua, O‘ahu, was composed in March 2011, its language, landscape, and sentiments are those of the chants and mo‘olelo recorded a century and more ago by Keko‘owai, Kapihenui, Poepoe, and Ulumāhiehie in their nūpepa retellings of the legends of the Mākālei branch and of Hi‘iakaikapoliopele’s passage through Kailua. We find, again and again, in faded newsprint, yellowing manuscripts, and newly digitized collections, that the old people have left us a treasure of names and epithets, of anchor-places and ways of addressing and responding to them.  Read the entire essay >>

Ho‘i ē, Ho‘i lā

Its allusions to dressing chants and kuahu remind us of the consecrated nature of hula’s origins.

This traditional exit hula was taught to Māpuana by Kekau‘ilani Kalama (Aunty Nana) who learned it, in turn, from her teacher Lōkālia Montgomery. We have not consciously changed any of it – and we’ve made every conscious effort to keep it unchanged. The text and translation provided below are transcribed as they were given to us by Aunty Nana; diacritical marks have been added to reflect the Hawaiian orthographic conventions of our day. The central image of “Ho‘i ē, Ho‘i lā” is an adorning mist that returns to its upland home after delighting the residents...  Read the entire essay >>


The moa crows unexpectedly and inopportunely, and his hopes are dashed before night even falls.

What Kauwe is telling us, in his own riddler-boaster fashion, is that he is from Ho‘okena, a land famous for love-making and love-makers. Ho‘okena is where the dew-laden hau breeze caresses the leaf-buds of the niu grove. It is where Kauwe finds himself spinning dizzily in love, flashing and fluttering like a manini’s tailfin in the beloved waters of Kapewaokamanini in Kauhako Bay. Surely he is about to enjoy the same kaomi of delight and satisfaction for which his homeland is celebrated. Surely he as about to taste the same manini delicacies that he extols in another of his famous songs... Read the entire essay >>

Ho‘opuka e ka Lā i Kai o Mālei

Soaring are the ‘iwa with Hi‘iaka / With the bright-skinned women, Hauwahine and Kahalakea.

This has become the mele hula ka‘i of our hālau. We have certainly tried more than once, over our 40-year history, to compose something on the order of the traditional ho‘opuka of “Unulau” and “ka hikina,” but nothing stuck until our own Kahikina put pen to moleskine for our 2012 hula kahiko entry in this festival. Her ka‘i rings with the names of our cherished places and guardians, with a procession of uhu, pu‘u, breeze, and birds, and with a call to the kini of Kailua to rise, remember, and reclaim. Most of all, her ka‘i honors the words of MKP, our teacher’s teacher, who once explained...  Read the entire essay >>

Ho‘opuka e ka Lā ma ka Hikina

When the ha‘a has been acknowledged, the hula can begin.

The central image of this mele is that of the sun as it enters the sky in the east and spreads light over the land. There is no overstating the significance of sun and east in Hawaiian thought. As Mary Kawena Pukui explains: “The sun rises flooding the earth with light, and bringing forth vitality to all nature. The Hawaiians wished for life, health, and growth in dancing and expressed it by building the kuahu on the east side.” Hawaiians also expressed this wish by associating the entrance of a dancer with the appearance in the east of that same golden sun... Read the entire essay >>

Huapala Hula

The engineers are going at it; up is down; down is up; the old ways are falling.

Who could doubt the temperament of a mele whose opening verse expresses love for the banana-eating sweetheart of Ke‘anae and whose composer, in verses two and three, identifies himself as the kūkōpiko-soothing lā‘au of Ku‘ukāpili? The imagery here is natural, lush, and highly suggestive. We have huapala (ripe fruit, trumpet vine, sweetheart), pōpō‘ulu (one of the few varieties of banana that women were traditionally allowed to eat), keiki lā‘au (forest child, the little wood), pohu (calmed, soothed), ha‘alulu wai neki (reed-water trembling), and a trio... Read the entire essay >>

Hu‘i Ē

What it lacks in kaona, it compensates for in hyperbole and humor.

In deference to her position as matriarch of the Kekuewa family in the first half of the 20th century, Lydia Nawahine Kawewehi Kekuewa was called “Tūtū Wahine” by my mother and Mom’s three sisters. Lydia was, in fact, their grandaunt – the wife of Obed M. Kekuewa (b. 1862, m. 1911) who was the brother of their maternal grandfather Henry Kalā Kekuewa. Lydia’s family came from Maui (her brother Robert Nawahine was a leader of central Maui’s churches, the first licentiate of Waihe‘e Church, and the composer of the well-known hymns “‘Ekolu Mea Nui” and “Ke Hea Nei ‘O Iesu”)...  Read the entire esssay >>

Hui Holo Lio

A name chant for Kalaniana‘ole from the collection of Mary Kawena Pukui.

Queen Emma's riding chants speak metaphorically of the firm-but-easy grip with which she meant to hold the reins of state. Kalākaua's surfing chants speak similarly of his skill at navigating the muku and lala of political fortune. Lili‘u's train chants, too, can be read as metaphors of her capacity for confident, inspiring rule. Much of this same kaona runs just beneath the surface of “Hui Holo Lio,” the riding-club chant of Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana‘ole, Hawai‘i's “citizen prince.” This mele, composed before Lili‘u's overthrow, conveys an ebullient... Read the entire essay >>

‘Ike iā Kaukini he Lawai‘a Manu

Know Kaukini, a fisher of birds.

Mary Kawena Pukui identifies this chant and its companion-piece “‘Ike iā Kaunawahine he Makani Ka’ū” as “mele pa‘i ali‘i, or chants expressing admiration for chiefs...”[1] The many versions listed in the “source” section above differ somewhat in line length and diction, but they all hold together well: none emerges as the definitive text; none can be dismissed as poorly remembered or transcribed. Consequently, our decision to perform the Kuluwaimaka text has little to do with the relative merit of the other versions and everything to do with the fact that... Read the entire essay >>

I Mauna Lahilahi Ko Wehi (Ka‘iulani)

A lei chant for Princess Ka‘iulani from the collection of Mary Kawena Pukui.

Mauna Lahilahi, literally “Thin Mountain," juts into the ocean at the foot of Mākaha Valley at the boundary between the ahupua’a of Wai’anae and Mākaha.  Its 230-foot height makes it less mauna than hill, but its thin, sliced-with-a-knife appearance certainly validates the lahilahi half of its name.  The Mākaha shoulder of Mauna Lahilahi curves into the small bay of Keawaiki; a wide sandy beach named Papaoneone once defined the shoreline here, but much of it has been lost to storm surf, the rising sea-level, and insufficient construction set-backs.  In the last decades of the Hawaiian... Read the entire essay >>

Ka Hanu Pua Mokihana

Wherein the poet affirms his deep affection for someone he calls “the enticing breath of mokihana.”

Back in the late 1970s, Norman Nakamoto came up with what we would call today a Field of Dreams idea. He wanted to hold an outdoor hula and Hawaiian music concert at his CYO Camp Hau‘ula. He would call it Nā Mele o Hau‘ula, and it would happen every August in the blazing sun, ninety minutes from town, on a palm-bunted plywood stage built under the false kamani trees of the former Fathers of the Sacred Hearts Seminary. Who the heck will show up? his detractors asked. But Norman held it anyway, and Hawaiians – especially young Hawaiians – came in droves.... Read the entire essay >>

Kākuhihewa (Aia i Honolulu Ku‘u Pōhaku)

Could “Kākuhihewa” be a mele ‘ai pōhaku?

This is the second of a pair of enigmatic chants composed by several (or a solitary) riddle-making haku mele of the 19th century whose ability to hide specific meaning in the imagery of stones, birds, blossoms, maile, and sea-spray leaves us shaking our heads in wonder. “Kuailo!”1 we mutter, at every twist and turn. The first mele of this pair is addressed to “Kamakaiouli” (Lot Kaupuaiwa Kamakaiouli Kamehameha). It begins with: “Aia i Honolulu kuu pohaku / O Kealohilani kuu haku ia,” and it ends with: “Hea aku no wau o mai oe / O Kamakaiouli kou inoa.” The other is addressed to “Kākuhihewa” (either the 17th century O‘ahu chief or, perhaps, an unnamed Kākuhihiwa of the poet’s day).  Read the entire essay >>

Ka Manu

The cold is nothing to my mind; the heart's desire is ever urgent.

When Alice Namakelua (b.1892 in Honoka‘a, Hawai‘i) was only a girl, she learned this song from an older Kohala man who, in his youth, had fallen in love with a Hilo girl. The girl’s parents did not want her involved with anyone who lived so far from Hilo, so they forced her to end the relationship. The boy composed this song as an expression of the depth of his love and the heartbreak of their parting (verses six and seven are said to be her words, the rest are his own); he shared his composition with Aunty Alice some thirty years after that parting. According to Aunty Alice, neither the Kohala boy...  Read the entire essay >>

Ka Nani a‘o Hilo

Small-talk quickly escalates to courtship and mid-day tryst in this Almeida revamp of an older mele.

"Ka Nani a’o Hilo" is Johnny Almeida's re-interpretation of the considerably longer mele "Kāua i ka Nani o Hilo," a frequently appended and revised chant for Kalākaua that was probably first composed in the early 1880's by Princess Kekaulike Kinoiki II (the younger sister of Queen Kapi’olani) and Keahinuiokilauea (the first wife of Kuluwaimaka). Where the earlier composition consists of a spirited 36-line debate between two women over the various tools and techniques by which men are caught, Almeida's version allows us to eavesdrop on a flirtatious conversation between a man and woman...  Read the entire essay >>

Ka Ua a‘o Hilo

The rain of Hilo will eventually subside, but a sweetheart's love is an endless thing.

Many of the songs that Kawai Cockett first released 30 years ago were applauded tearfully by people who hadn't heard them in years. This is because Kawai's mentors were among the best of that generation's old-timers: Johnny Almeida, Pauline Kekahuna, Henry Pa, Vickie Ii, and Alice Namakelua. "Ka Ua a‘o Hilo" is one such mele taught by one such mentor. It appeared on his debut album Beautiful Kaua‘i and was described in Jean Sullivan's liner notes for the LP as something that "Hilo people in their eighties remember hearing…" To this, Kawai has provided several bits of interesting... Read the entire essay >>

Kaulana nā Kona

It names and it erases.

At some point in the ten-year reign of 49th State Records, George Ching invited Maile Kā and the Kona Serenaders into his Mānoa living room and had them sing Alice Kū’s “Kaulana nā Kona” into his portable disc-cutter. Despite the low-brow nature of Ching’s at-home studio and the brief, 1948-’58 life of his record company, “so great was his output that, 20 years after it ceased production, more than 40 repackaged albums and 250 re-pressed 45 rpm singles still were commercially available.”  Many of Ching’s recordings, especially those featuring Genoa Keawe and Ching’s musical director...  Read the entire essay >>

Ke Ala a ka Jeep

If you're going by Jeep, it'll be kāhulihuli all the way -- a song by Kawena Pukui and Eddie Kamae.

We’ve known for some time that Mary Kawena Pukui and Eddie Kamae composed this mele in celebration of a visit they made to Kawena’s homeland in Ka‘ū, Hawai‘i.  Eddie has explained as much – and not much more – for most of the thirty-five years that he has been singing this song. We’ve suspected, also for quite a while, that their composition has a much deeper meaning and purpose than its bouncy "Holoholo Ka‘a" persona would have us believe. Our own travels with Kupuna Elizabeth Kauahipaula and ‘Anakala Edward Ka‘anana have demonstrated time and again that our elders don’t look...  Read the entire essay >>

Ke ‘Ala Ka‘u i Honi

How sad that Lili‘u would drop completely out of the early 20th-century rendition of her mele.

Although “Ke ‘Ala Ka‘u i Honi” has long been thought of as a highly romantic, twentieth-century love song, it is, in fact, a much-abridged but still recognizable version of  “Pua Nani o Hawaii,” an honorific chant composed for the 29-year-old Mrs. Lydia Lili‘u Dominis by Kekapa Low in June 1868. The original composition, itself part of a longer collection of mele entitled “He Inoa No Liliu,” apparently underwent a pair of modifications before it was first recorded by Linda Dela Cruz in 1945 and attributed there to Keala Carter (1881-1981) and her son Tom Jr.... Read the entire essay >>

Keawe ‘O‘opa

The transformation of Kane‘ōpā.

In the late 1960s, Mary Kawena Pukui recorded a series of "little Hawaiian verses for children." Her collection included mele for learning the alphabet and the multiplication tables, for playing hide and seek, for remembering the names of the districts of Ka‘ū, for teasing sullen playmates, and for making string figures. Her purpose, she explained, was preservation. She hoped that Hawaiian children would learn these mele and experience some of the things she enjoyed when she was a child. Implicit in her words was the belief that these little verses and the world they describe would otherwise...  Read the entire essay >>


Mine is the love carried on the back, carried in the front.

This mele was composed for my mother Lorna Pi‘ilani Pratt de Silva of Hōnaunau, Kona, Hawai‘i. She is a direct descendant, through her maternal great-grandparents Ke‘ōlewa Moanauli Kekuewa (k. born 1845) and Loika Kama‘ilohi (w. born 1847), of both Keawe‘īkekahiali‘iokamoku, the 17th century chief for whom Hale o Keawe was built and named, and of Mo‘oiki Keawe‘ai, the priest who founded that house and fathered the five generations of sons and grandsons who served as its keepers.

Although I am 10 generations removed from the first chief... Read the entire essay >>

Kuahiwi Nani (Haleakalā Hula)

"Now they all want me to ride float so I will make a new song for it."

Alice Namakelua composed the song we now know as "Haleakalā Hula" on May 6, 1941. Its original title was "Kuahiwi Nani," and it was written for the Maui float of that year’s Kamehameha Day Parade. By 1941, Aunty Alice had completed six years of a 24-year career with the City of Honolulu’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Over the course of that career, she found herself in charge of ten Maui and ten Hawai‘i Island floats in a succession of Kamehameha Day Parades. "Kuahiwi Nani" was probably the first of at least four mele that she composed...  Read the entire essay >>

Kuilima Hula

Tūtū Blanchard focused on the shoreline places whose names were being lost to the new hotel.

For years, we have half-listened to “Kuilima Hula” and half-thought about it as a kind of North Shore “Royal Hawaiian Hotel” – a nice song as far as hotel songs go, but hardly an expression of aloha ‘āina. Now we discover that it is, in fact, very much in keeping with our kūpa‘a sentiments.  The mele has opened, for us, a doorway into appreciating Kahuku Lewa and its many loyal voices. It delivers, with great and almost deceptive grace, a lesson in names and a refusal to surrender them. Although we are big fans of K. P. and Kahiona’s multiple layers of sarcasm-laced knowledge, we can... Read the entire essay >>

Ku‘u Home ‘o Maui

Auē, ke aloha ē!

Jean Sullivan describes “Ku‘u Home ‘o Maui” as a "rousing Maui bragging song” that only old-timers are likely to remember; Kimo Alama-Keaulana simply calls it “old.” Neither Sullivan nor Alama-Keaulana identifies the mele’s author or date of composition, nor has our own research contributed anything more concrete than a feel for the composers and tradition that inspired this simple, compelling, and still anonymous classic. We can say that “Ku‘u Home ‘o Maui” draws on a Maui song-writing tradition that has its roots in the nineteenth century...  Read the entire essay >>

Lani Ha‘aha‘a (Makawao)

A halo of happiness and sorrow.

“Lani Ha‘aha‘a,” like “Ku‘u Home ‘o Maui,” belongs to the tradition of turn-of-the-century Maui boasting songs on which Alice Namakelua based her own Maui composition “Kuahiwi Nani.” As with “Ku’u Home ‘o Maui” and the majority of the songs in this tradition, the exact origin of “Lani Ha’aha’a” is difficult to trace: its author is unknown (or at least in question) and its date of composition is equally obscure. Indeed, this obscurity of author and date seems as much a part of the genre as its near-obsession with the phrase “Maui nō ka ‘oi!” The poets of this tradition were extremely proud of their...  Read the entire essay >>


He discovers, upon arrival, that his lover has found someone else with whom to make sugar.

The Kīlauea was a propeller-driven, sail-assisted, interisland steamship that plied Hawaiian waters during the reigns of Kamehameha IV, Kamehameha V, Lunalilo, and Kalākaua. The ship began service in 1860 and finally retired in 1877; in those 17 years, he (Hawaiians of the day found in Kīlauea a decidedly male presence) had easily won the affection of his customers and earned a reputation as a tireless, resilient, somewhat accident-prone workhorse of the sea. At the time to which our song refers (probably the 1870s when Kīlauea’s regular run took him between Maui and Hawai‘i)...  Read the entire essay >>

Makee ‘Ailana

It rose out of the mud in the 1880s and was buried under the tailings of Ala Wai Canal in the 1920s.

The Kapi‘olani Park Association was founded in November 1876 and consisted almost entirely of well-heeled businessmen-planters whose intent, under the guise of civic duty, was to create a high end, beachside suburb and horse-racing facility for their own almost exclusive use. They convinced David Kalākaua, then in his third year on the throne, to make the crown lands of Kāneloa available to their association, and they agreed, in turn, to finance the construction of the park by selling, for $50 each, 200 shares of membership in the KPA.  Read the entire essay >>

Māluaki‘iwai ke Aloha

Wherein the mist finally settles and our wind-bird turns, at last, to his lover’s arms.

This is as sweet a love song as can be found in Hawaiian literature. Our most reliable sources – Joseph ‘Īlālā‘ole, Akoni Mika, and Mary Kawena Pukui – identify it as a mele inoa composed in the mid-1800s for Kapakuhaili Hakaleleponi Kalama (1817-1870), the queen consort of Kamehameha III. The first verse of Queen Kalama’s name chant introduces us to Māluaki‘iwai – the beloved, water-fetching sea breeze of Hilo, Hawai‘i – as it moistens the tender flower bud of a māmane tree. The māmane and its delicate, golden-yellow blossoms... Read the entire essay >>

Māpuna ka Hala o Kailua

Growth and promise, we conclude, are still in us, and our land is still capable of response.

The hala grove of Kekele, named for the handsome, sweet-tempered wife of Kailua's 11th century voyaging chief Kaulu-a-Kalana, once flourished at the Ko‘olau foot of Nu‘uanu Pali and is said to have been so fragrant that its perfume lingered long after the grove was destroyed. “Māpuna ka Hala o Kailua” follows the path of this beloved phantom fragrance as it is borne on the wind across the Kailua ahupua‘a from mountain to sea, from then to now.  Read the entire essay>>

Mekila e nā ‘Iwa e Kaka‘i Ana

Handsome are the ‘Iwa flying in formation.

Lokomaika‘i Snakenberg – friend, first Hawaiian language teacher, and namer of our hālau – composed this mele hula ho‘i for us in 1984 to use in that year’s Merrie Monarch Festival. His mele describes the gathering of ‘iwa at the Kalāheo School end of Kawainui pond, their drinking of water there, and their return “to the sea at full tide.” It is abundantly clear to us that the mele was written after careful study of the imagery, movement pattern, and meaning of the traditional... Read the entire essay >>

Mi Nei Police

Officer, arrest her gesture.

We were at the Bishop Museum Archives the other day working on some chants for Ka‘ū when – as so often happens in the process of paging through the mele collections of Roberts and Mader – something completely unrelated and totally irresistible popped into view, ‘o ia ho‘i, the following note attached to Charles E. King’s "Mi Nei." The original is handwritten and unsigned, but the neat script, careful diction, and early mention of "my husband ... Pukui" identifies it incontrovertibly as belonging to the sharp pencil and subtle wit of Mary Kawena Pukui...  Read the entire essay >>


An old-timer's song that almost nobody remembered and that might well have stayed forgotten.

Although it was probably composed in the early 20th century, "Mokuhulu" belongs to a style of late 19th century Hawaiian poetry called hula ku‘i; the style is defined by structure that is strophic (composed in verses), verses that are short (usually two lines each), line cadences that are regular, "tunes" that are interchangeable, themes that involve aloha ‘āina and the exaltation of chiefs, and literal meanings that often read like simple travelogues.  Katherine Luomala and Samuel Elbert contend, furthermore, that the hula ku‘i's artless structure, predilection for place-names, image-rich but...  Read the entire essay >>

Nani Wale Ke‘anae

It reaches across the years and embraces its people in downpour and fragrance.

For all their apparent warmth and inclusivity, the best-known Maui compositions of Alice Johnson are pōhaku kū, carefully placed anchor-stones that hold down her old-timer’s ‘ikena of the island in the middle of the current-tossed 20th century. “Aloha ‘Ia nō ‘o Maui” secures, in song and memory, the traditional epithets of beloved wahi pana (“Nā hono a‘o Pi‘ilani,” “ke kai holuholu o Kahului,” “Kepaniwai o ‘Īao," and “Kilikila o Haleakalā”) at a time when the character of these places is first tested by the uapo, ala nui, and ever-visiting malihini of the tour industry... Read the entire essay >>

Ninipo Ho‘onipo i ke Aloha

Lili‘u's escape – it is at Hā‘ena where yearning becomes love-making.

Contrary to the impression created by popular recordings of the last quarter century (Dennis Kamakahi's version and liner notes on his CD Pua‘ena are the notable exception), "Ninipo" is not a neat bundle of words that has survived, intact, the 130-or-so years since it was reputedly composed by David Kalākaua. Indeed, the two "Ninipo" with which we are most familiar – those recorded by Genoa Keawe and Palani Vaughn – turn out to be abbreviated, high-energy renditions of a 20th century, Johnny Noble revision. Although these renditions provide the text, tune, and tempo that have inspired most...  Read the entire essay >>

No Luna i ka Hale Kai no ka Ma‘alewa

A chant by Hi‘iakaikapoliopele, our heroine of hard choices.

My wife Māpuana de Silva learned "No Luna i ka Hale Kai no ka Ma‘alewa" from Maiki Aiu Lake in May 1974. As was her custom, Aunty Maiki wrote the Hawaiian text on the chalkboard, added an abbreviated English translation, and directed her class, the Papa ‘Ilima, to Nathaniel B. Emerson’s Unwritten Literature for background information. Maiki apparently recognized Emerson’s limited understanding of "No Luna" and advised her students to go beyond his UL gloss by studying the Hi‘iaka legend and researching, for themselves, the mele’s person- and place-names...  Read the entire essay >> 

Pane Mai

E Sweetie, you up or what?

Robert Cazimero does not get enough credit for this song’s wit, economy of expression, and allusive depth. He allows us to listen-in on a one-sided, “slice of life” conversation, and he leaves us to draw our own chuckling, “yeah, I’ve been there” conclusions. Like all good poets, he shows not tells. We appreciate, as well, his subtle echoing of “Ka‘ililauokekoa,” an old, one-sided wooing song addressed to the legendary sleepy-headed princess of Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i: “E Ka‘ililauokekoa, ua moe paha ‘oe?” And we can’t shake off the impression that “Pane Mai”... Read the entire essay >> 


The "skinny banana" exacts his revenge – or so he thinks.

The story of Pōlani and her part-Mexican lover (he refers to himself in his song as Piukeona) illustrates, in juicy detail, the consequences of gossip and conclusion-jumping in a closely knit Hawaiian community. The story demonstrates, as well, the double-edged potential of words spoken (or, in this case, composed) in anger.  According to Kawena Pukui's summary of the story, Pōlani's relationship with her handsome hapa Mekiko was ruined by a jealous woman who went to him with lies about Pōlani's dissatisfaction with his performance as a lover. When he heard that Pōlani had described him... Read the entire essay >>

Poli Anuanu

Someone has come down with a bad case of the "colds."

Nathaniel Emerson gives us, in Unwritten Literature, the first 12 lines of the now 16-line text of “Poli Anuanu.” He identifies the song’s date of composition as “no longer ago than about the sixth decade of the last century [1860],” and he describes its personal and subjective tone as now “very popular in Hawaii … in contrast with the objective epic style of the earliest mele." Emerson’s introductory remarks make good sense, but his interpretation of the song is skewed, we think, by his western view of “cold” as something inhospitable and unloving. As something to be gotten out of...  Read the entire essay >>

Pua Māmane

A song by Lena Machado from the collection of Pi‘olani Motta.

Aunty Lena was the youngest of the five children of Robert and Louise Poepoe Wai‘ale‘ale. The five, from hiapo to muli loa, were William, Gussie, Ivy, Robert Jr., and Lena. Aunty Lena was raised in Honolulu by her hānai parents and didn‘t know too much about her siblings. But as she got older, she got more inquisitive. She said that she was in her teens when she finally met them. They invited her to go to Kaua‘i – that was where they lived and where their father was from. They accepted the fact that Aunty Lena had been adopted out and never heard from for years, and they... Read the entire essay >>

Pūpū o Ni‘ihau

It is not a song about the Ni‘ihau shell; it is song about love.

We learned "Pūpū o Ni‘ihau" in the commons room of the girls' dormitory of Lycee Dokamo, Noumea, New Caledonia on Monday, October 23, 2000. We were supposed to participate, that evening, in the Gala Opening of the 8th Festival of Pacific Arts, but heavy rain and wind caused the event to be postponed. As a result, the Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilima and Anuhea contingents of the Hawai‘i delegation to the festival set aside the gala choreography of Aboriginal Australian Raymond Blanco to participate, instead, in a hula "symposium" conducted by two members... Read the entire essay>>

‘Umia ke Aloha i Pa‘a i Loko

Under their noses but over their heads.

This is a mele pio kālai‘āina, a political-prisoner song composed by a deposed and captive queen (Lili‘uokalani) for a deposed and captive prince (Kalaniana‘ole). Lili‘u was locked up in a second floor room at the former palace. Kalaniana‘ole was serving out a sentence of hard labor at O‘ahu Prison. Both Queen and Prince, aunt and nephew, had been convicted of misprision of treason for their “silent” roles in the failed countercoup of January 1895.  Read the entire essay >>

Wedding-Music Police

Officer, arrest that song.

We were at a wedding reception a few months ago. Very upper-crust Hawaiian. Valet parking, green lawns, white tents, two open bars, three impressive hui hīmeni taking turns on stage. We were, therefore, more than a little surprised when the first of these groups included "Latitū" in its offering of music to bride, groom, and family. We were further taken aback when the second of these groups did the same with "Pua ‘o Kāmakahala," and we were even more astonished when the third group opened its set with a rousing rendition of "Keyhole Hula."  "Hū," said some of the folks at our corner...  Read the entire essay >>